July 11, 2016
by David Bredan
This is a big one, and something that took a long time to come together: today, we review and compare every single detail of the Rolex Submariner 114060 “No Date” and the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Black.
It may sound weird today but it’s true nonetheless that, a few years ago, Tudor could not have been as widely considered a viable alternative to Rolex. Times have changed, and tables have turned, though: Tudor has returned to the USA market and, more importantly, has developed a range of super impressive products, all designed to nicely complement the assortment of its parent company – Rolex.
As a direct consequence, we are being asked so much of the time: “Which one should I buy, a Rolex or a Tudor?” There are many, many things to consider from pricing to quality of execution and movements, from history to prestige, and from design to wearability. We did all the hard work for you and compared these two amazing brands in this detailed, hands-on comparison review of the Rolex Submariner 114060 “No Date” and the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Black Reference 79220N watches.
We will indeed try and look at all the notable specifications and features, basically every single aspect you should take into consideration before making up your mind to go with either one of these pieces. They each are genuinely amazing and hence hugely popular watches – however, although they do look rather similar at first, under the surface they actually are more different than you ever imagined.
We should mention right at the beginning that at Baselworld 2016 Tudor launched an updated version of the Tudor Heritage Black Bay collection, adding an in-house movement to it. That watch, however, will not be available until later into the year and is otherwise extremely similar to what we have here.
That’s right, we are beginning with history – just to get the very basics in place and better understand how these two companies are related.
Established in 1905 by Hans Wilsdorf, Rolex was officially registered by Wilsdorf on July 2, 1908. The company then moved to Geneva in 1919 and was registered there as Montres Rolex S.A. in 1920. Tudor, on the other hand, was registered in 1926 by the house of “Veuve de Philippe Hüther,” a watchmaker and watch dealer; Wilsdorf acquired the exclusive usage rights to Tudor from this dealer.
Tudor was off to a slow start, though. In 1932, they started delivering watches to Australia – of all places and markets – but it was only on October 15, 1936, that the house of “Veuve de Philippe Hüther” transferred the brand The Tudor to Hans Wilsdorf. It was also at this time that the rose of the Tudor dynasty appeared on the dials.
The real start of the company dates to even later than that, though, as Tudor notes: “Just after the Second World War, Hans Wilsdorf knew that the time had come to expand and give the brand a proper identity of its own. Thus, on 6 March 1946, he created the ‘Montres TUDOR S.A.’ company, specializing in models for both men and women. Rolex would guarantee the technical, aesthetic and functional characteristics, along with the distribution and after-sales service.”
From 1947 onwards, a year after the official launch of Tudor, the shield gradually disappeared from the logo, henceforth comprising only the company name and the rose.
In 1948, the first advertisements dedicated to Tudor were launched. The brand was clearly associated with Rolex, both in the text and in the logo, while the copy emphasized the aesthetics, chronometric precision, and waterproofness of Tudor timepieces.
This is all very interesting for those fascinated by the histories of watch brands, but Wilsdorf’s reasons for establishing a second brand alongside Rolex are what truly matter and what affect how the two brands are positioned today, some 70 years later.
Tudor quotes Wilsdorf in saying: “For some years now, I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents could sell at a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that would attain the standard of dependability for which Rolex is famous. I decided to form a seperate (sic!) company, with the object of making and marketing this new watch. It is called the Tudor watch company.”
So there you have it. Tudor from the get-go was designed to be heavily reliant on Rolex, for obvious economical and financial reasons, and was cleverly positioned at a more affordable price point, without any notable sacrifices in overall quality or dependability. This positioning of the two brands still very much applies, but thanks to major advancements in manufacturing technologies – and with fiercer-than-ever competition in the industry – the picture has become more complicated.
Some people, generally those who have very limited exposure to and understanding of watches and the industry behind it, repeatedly say that Rolex is not an innovative company and that they don’t do enough to further advance or modernize their products. The same people would probably also argue that the 911 Porsche is the same car as it was 50 years ago… But just because one still tells the time and the other still goes around corners, that doesn’t mean there have not been major, major advancements made to their mechanics – hidden under their finely made metallic exteriors.
There have clearly been some huge steps forward in terms of manufacturing techniques and quality of execution, but the issue of product development leads us to an interesting situation. When one brand has been destined to permanently remain “under” another (in pricing, technical features, exclusivity, etc.), it has to perform one endless tight-rope walk, skillfully balancing between not losing ground to its competitors and at the same time not stepping on the toes of its bigger brother. To stick with the Porsche analogy, most car fans are probably familiar with how the Cayman, the baby-911, has evolved into a fantastic sports car that admittedly had to be held to keep it from beating the 911 both in performance and value.
Okay, back to watches. Over the last few years, Tudor has experienced incredible success, taking a larger chunk of sales out of its already extremely competitive segment of relatively affordable Swiss high-end watches priced between $2,000 and $5,000. However, Tudor has to find ways to maintain that momentum, and for that, it knows it has to be able to show more than good-looking, heritage-inspired watches. Here’s how Rolex and Tudor advanced in tandem.
Rolex manufactures most all components of its watches, including cases, bracelets, clasps, movements, and dials in-house. For over ten years now, they have been using 904L for their steel cases and bracelets in lieu of the much more common 316L. Last but not least, Rolex has been making slow, but steady progress in refining their movements, all of which are now tested by them to be accurate to within -2/+2 seconds per day – as we were first to bring you the news in more detail here.
So, the question is: how can Tudor measure up by being different and, preferably, more than its competition, while not breaching Rolex territory? Let’s put the Rolex Submariner “No-Date” Reference 114060 and the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Black Reference 79220N side by side and see how they compare.
Rolex dates the beginning of its history with dive watches to 1953, when it all started with the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner Reference 6204. Tudor’s involvement in dive watch manufacturing began just one year after Rolex, in 1954, with a watch and a designation that were eerily similar to those of its parent company: the Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner Ref. 7922. Both watches in today’s review pay homage to their trendsetting predecessors – but enough with history already, and let’s see how they measure up against one another.
The Tudor Heritage Black Bay Black comes in a 41-millimeter-wide and 12.7-millimeter-thick case, water resistant to 200 meters, and crafted from 316L stainless steel. It is a beautifully crafted case with some finer details that save it from appearing to be overly “tool-focused” or heavy-duty. Highly polished sides, brushed, or rather satin-finished lugs, and – my personal favorite design element – a polished edge that runs along both sides of the case all render the Tudor Black Bay a solid, but refined-looking watch.
The domed sapphire crystal on the front is framed by an aluminum bezel that is equipped with a lumed pip at 12. The bezel may have a notched edge, but it still is rather difficult to grab firmly and move from one to the next of its 60 solid clicks. A 60-minute bezel actually is a genuinely useful little feature and one that I personally use often, which is why I found it all the more annoying that the low profile of the one on the Black Bay is rather more difficult to hold onto and rotate without my fingers slipping off its edge.
The bezel in this instance is finished in matte black – other versions in blue (reviewed here), in brown over a bronze case (hands-on), in all-black over a black case (hands-on), and in burgundy red are also available. Still, it was this version, the Tudor Heritage Black Bay Black with its black bezel, red triangle marker, and gilt dial that made the biggest splash after the original in burgundy had been released.
The case of the Rolex Submariner 114060 is 40 millimeters wide and 12.5 millimeters thick, coming in slightly smaller in every dimension than the Tudor. Notably, the Tudor measures a full 50 millimeters lug-to-lug, while the Rolex is under it, at 48 millimeters – something to consider for those with smaller, or larger-than-average wrists (more on that further down in the Wearability section).
Rolex uses a Cerachrom bezel on the Submariner. It is a ceramic bezel with engraved, recessed numerals and graduations, which have been PVD-coated with platinum. The ceramic looks fantastic and not only does it look better than the metal one on the Tudor, but is also incomparably more scratch-resistant, ensuring that it will look great ages down the road. Ceramic does not ever fade in color either, so kiss goodbye any patination hopes – in case that is something you were looking forward to.
The Rolex Submariner’s bezel is easier to grab and rotate than on the Tudor and… on a watch-nerdy but important note, the Rolex bezel feels like no other I have ever used. While the Tudor has 60 large, solid jumps from one click to the next, it feels almost overdone a bit. By contrast, the 120-click Rolex bezel feels like a fine-adjust knob on a high-precision engineering instrument. It is buttery smooth but still super precise – this is what it must feel like to tinker with a control panel on a submarine, or open one of those massive old safes seen in the movies. It is so wonderfully over-engineered (but not overdone), that I often found myself turning it for no good reason other than for pure mechanical enjoyment.